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Roomy cats are making waves

If you look at the new boats in the charter fleets this fall, many are catamarans. They are big and spacious, and they are winning converts to chartering.

If you look at the new boats in the charter fleets this fall, many are catamarans. They are big and spacious, and they are winning converts to chartering. One of the new cats for charter in the Caribbean is making waves showcasing fuel-saving technology.

Read the other stories in this package: 17 tips for choosing a charter   An alternative to ownership   Charter contacts

The Moorings is introducing a new 46-footer, the 4600, a four-cabin, four-head (with showers) Morrelli and Melvin flybridge design built by the South African yard Robertson and Caine. The yacht will be available for charter at The Moorings’ Belize, Canouan, St. Lucia, St. Martin and Tortola bases.

Sunsail is adding its version of the same boat, the 464, and a smaller four-cabin, four-head 43-footer, the 434, to its Tortola fleet. TMM Yacht Charters is bringing to Tortola two new Lagoon 410s (41-footers), two Fountaine Pajot Mahe 36s, a Nautitech 47 and a 42-foot Lagoon, the 420, powered by two fuel-efficient hybrid electric engines. Also in Tortola, The Catamaran Company is adding a flybridge Lagoon 500 (a 50-footer), a Lagoon 440 (44-footer) and another of the fuel-saving Lagoon 420s. (All of Lagoon’s 42-footers now come standard with hybrid diesel-electric power.)

“Catamarans are an ever-increasing part of the market,” says Barney Crook, managing director of TMM Yacht Charters. “They have been for years. I don’t see that stopping. … They are the ideal charter vehicle.”

The economics of a catamaran charter make it a popular way to vacation on a boat, says Staley Weidman, The Catamaran Company’s yacht broker. The cats are roomy. Most now have four cabins, each with its own head and shower, and enough common areas for four couples or two families to charter together without falling over each other.

“[Landside,] if you get a hotel you’re not going to split the cost with someone else,” says Weidman. “You can split the cost of a charter with several couples, and the cost per day is quite reasonable.”

Sea of Love, a Lagoon 440 offered by The Catamaran Company, charters for $5,300 a week in the July 29 to Oct. 24 off-season. Add $350 for fuel, and the cost of chartering the boat comes to $5,650, plus food and entertainment. Split four ways, that’s about $200 a day. “The value’s definitely there,” says Weidman, and it’s attracting vacation cruisers.

To save on travel costs Weidman recommends charterers fly a discount airline like Spirit from Fort Lauderdale to St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, and take the ferry from St. Thomas to the British Virgin Islands for a Tortola charter.

With today’s fuel prices, the Lagoon 420 has drawn a lot of interest, says TMM managing director Barney Crook. The yacht’s hybrid power package consists of a diesel generator, two sets of six batteries, and a pair of 72-volt electric motors with straight shafts and props. With batteries fully charged, the boat can motor on the batteries alone for about two hours, depending on speed, before the batteries draw down to 80 percent of their full charge. This automatically starts the generator so the batteries can recharge under way. Also, when sailing better than 5 knots with props in free-spin, the props recharge the batteries.

Crook says a charter boat is a good test bed for the concept, since most charterers sail so little that prop recharging could be minimal. “The diesel generator is going to run a lot,” he predicts. “We’ll see.”

The new catamarans give charter clients a lot of outside living space and a flybridge for better visibility and easier maneuvering. The Moorings 4600 (Sunsail’s 464) centers cruising life around a large aft cockpit and outside dining area connected to the galley by a serving window and covered by a hardtop. The saloon is roomy and opens to the dining area, bringing cockpit and saloon together as a single living area, all on one level. The raised helm is accessed from the cockpit through a forward corner of the hardtop.

“It’s really well-designed,” says Peter Cook, general manager of Sunsail USA. “They’ve got a huge cockpit and big sun platforms.” The boat is air-conditioned and sleeps 12, though it is sized best for two families or four couples, he says.

Cats also are making inroads in powerboat chartering. NauticBlue, The Moorings’ power charter division, will introduce its NauticBlue 474 “Sport Utility Vessel” at the Miami International Boat Show in February. Also a Morrelli and Melvin design, the flybridge 47-footer sleeps up to 13 on queen-size berths in four cabins, a saloon table convertible to a queen, and three forepeak bunks. The boat also has a galley serving window to an outside dining area and a saloon opening to a large cockpit, all on one level. NauticBlue manager David Rohr says the boat is powered for efficiency by twin 130-hp diesels that push the boat to 18 knots.

“I think [fuel-efficient power plants] are going to be important going into the future,” he says. Chartering the boat will run about $10,000 a week during the winter high season. NauticBlue expects to start bringing 18 of the new power cats on line in March at charter bases in Tortola, Marsh Harbour in the Bahamas, and Athens and Corfu, Greece.

Even as the catamarans claim a niche as large-capacity carriers, monohulls continue to have a place in the charter fleet, says Sunsail’s Cook. Sunsail is introducing a Beneteau 39 built in France — with three cabins, two heads, twin wheels and a big cockpit — for the U.S. market and some Beneteau 43s, Cook says. The company plans to add 100 new boats altogether in a fleet of 1,000 at some 29 locations, including six vacation resorts — four seasonal resorts in Turkey, another in Greece and a year-round resort in Antigua. Cooks says Sunsail debuted a new Website in August ( ) that makes it easier to examine all the boats in the Sunsail fleet, peruse specifications, and see when and where they are based. The company also opened a new resort, Club Phokaia, this spring in Turkey, near one of its charter bases.

Sunsail is focusing on small to midsize monohulls, though it also will have a few big cats, while The Moorings aims more at the larger cat charter market, Cook says. (Sunsail is under ownership of First Choice Holidays, a European travel company that last December bought The Moorings and its affiliated charter companies, NauticBlue and Footloose.)

Sunsail wants to woo U.S. small-boat sailors who have never chartered before and would like to give it a try. “Our boats are nice and simple — new, easy to navigate, easy to sail,” he says. Most have or soon will have chart plotters and autopilots for easier navigating.

For those who don’t mind older boats and want to save money, Footloose offers charters that are 15- to 20-percent cheaper than The Moorings on 5- to 7-year-old boats recently mustered out of The Moorings’ fleet. Footloose was offering weeklong charters on a 42-foot catamaran with four double cabins for $540 during the fall season starting Oct. 1.

Most charter outfits offer deals when they have too many boats sitting at the dock. Sunsail was offering 15- and 25-percent discounts on Caribbean charters during slow weeks from October through February. And TMM recommends checking its Web site regularly for last-minute deals. It was offering 10 days for the price of seven for bookings through Oct. 31.

For those who want to brush up on their boat-handling skills before chartering, Southwest Florida Yachts’ Florida Sailing and Cruising School in North Fort Myers, Fla., lets prospective charterers live aboard a sailboat or power yacht while they learn. They can spend anywhere from two days of basic sailing instruction to eight days to learn to operate a powerboat offshore. Co-owner Barbara Hansen promises hands-on teaching that stresses nitty-gritty boating skills and the “personal responsibility and attitudes you have to have to be a successful charterer or boat owner.” It’s a learn-to-cruise vacation. For more information visit or .